Balancing Fitness And Fun: Top 5 Exercise Games

Once again, a lockdown brings restrictions on how and where we can exercise. With gyms, swimming pools, and other indoor facilities closed, the act of keeping in shape has been limited to outdoor pursuits or activities in your own home. If you don’t fancy pounding the dark icy roads, or trying to keep up with a virtual instructor, there is an alternative: Fitness games.

Other than the moment when you score a key goal in FIFA, console games have long been a largely sedentary activity. The Nintendo Wii started to change the landscape of video games with motion-controlled games getting people off their sofas to play. Suddenly, waving your arms around to hit tennis balls or to participate in a boxing match was the norm. The natural progression led to fitness-based games. Here are five options to get your heart rate going while waiting for the gyms to reopen. 

5. Danger Ball (PS4, October 2016)

Danger Ball is a game that is part of the virtual reality collection that is VR Worlds. The best way of describing the game is as a virtual reality version of Pong. The objective of the game is to move your body to block balls in order to defend your goal, whilst trying to ‘head’ the ball through your virtual opponent’s goal.

Whilst not a fitness game by genre, the constant moving from side to side, stretching, and ducking of your head mean this is a very active game. The latter levels are fast; it is highly probable that you will work up a sweat as you move about to head the ball back.

Danger Ball is a fun concept that gets people off the couch and moving around. This underrated little gem will cause your brow to perspire and make you smile.

Workout Rating: 4/10
Fun Factor: 6.5/10

4. Wii Fit Plus (Nintendo Wii, October 2009)

Incredibly, Wii Fit Plus in now almost twelve years old. The game utilises the Wii Balance Board, a peripheral tool which players step on for some of the game’s interactional elements. The board uses pressure pads to measure the balance and weight of the user. There are two main aspects: strength and yoga-based exercises, with additional balance and aerobic-based games. To aid in motivation, Wii Fit Plus runs a Body Test to determine the player’s ‘Wii Fit Age’ and body mass.

Wii Fit Plus appeals to all ages with close to forty strength and yoga games, and over thirty balance and aerobic games. The former tend to be fairly dry exercises featuring an onscreen instructor as the Wii remote controllers and Balance Board track movements to guide you in performing the exercise. 

The fun element of Wii Fit Plus is in the balance and aerobic exercises. These exercises range from jogging through an on-screen course, to a hula-hoop fitness class, to boxing and even ski jumping to test the player’s balance. Points and league positions add competitive elements to gameplay.

With Wii Fit Plus, Nintendo devised a game that has enough variety and competitive aspects to possess repeat play appeal to keep players exercising. The only downside is that a number of the exercises and workouts lack the intensity of other real-world fitness regimes.

Workout Rating: 5/10
Fun Factor: 7/10

3. Just Dance 2021 (Various Platforms, November 2020)

Just Dance is one of the longest-running gaming franchises, having first appeared on the Wii in 2009. The 2021 version sticks to the tried and tested dance-rhythm formula. The concept is simple: you choose a song and try to mimic the movements of the on-screen dance instructor. Your console motion controllers or mobile phone tracks your movements and rates your performance. 

Of all the games on this list, both the enjoyment factor and the fitness challenge depend on your rhythm and love of dance simulations. Your song choice also affects the intensity of the workout. With a subscription model available, the variety of songs is almost endless which boosts re-play value and gives you more value for your money. 

While the popularity cannot be questioned Just Dance 2021 has some flaws. The track list isn’t inspiring and the ‘sweat’ factor is too closely linked to ability.

Workout Rating: 8/10
Fun Factor: 7/10

2. Beat Saber (PS4 and PC, May 2019)

Even though Beat Saber isn’t pitched as a fitness game, it certainly manages to get your heart rate going. It is also bags of fun.

The game mashes together elements of Guitar Hero, Just Dance, Tetris, and Star Wars. Slip on the VR headset and the result is a high octane experience that demands one more go. Wielding two ‘lightsabers’ you slice blocks flying towards you in the direction signposted on the block whilst ducking and leaning to avoid laser walls and bombs. All of this action is set to a track list of banging dance tunes.

The exercise comes from flailing your arms around and squatting to avoid objects. On the hardest levels, you will find as good a cardio workout as any of the other games on this list. Furthermore, you also get the mental training; it takes some quick thinking to slice the blocks in the right direction. The repeat play element means you’ll keep coming back for more! 

Workout Rating: 7.5/10
Fun Factor: 9/10

1. Ring Fit Adventure (Nintendo Switch, October 2019)

Ring Fit Adventure has been heavily promoted by Nintendo. It is a novel concept which cleverly combines the elements of an RPG and a fitness workout. 

The game utilises the switch controllers by placing one in the supplied leg strap and the other in the supplied Ring-Con, which is a high tension Pilates-style exercise ring. Using the controllers, the game tracks your movements as you collect items and defeat enemies through different physical games. The Ring-Con is put to good use as a bow, to do arm exercises, and track movements in high-intensity activities. For example, jogging is used to move your character around. Approximately thirty different exercises, from squats, to stretches, to thigh presses are employed to complete tasks and battle enemies.

Ring Fit Adventure is a fairly standard adventure yarn. However, the story has just enough variety to keep you engaged while you exercise, and exercise you do! The difficulty level can be tailored to your ability and the workout can be intensified to your liking. Not only that, but there is enough variety to exercise all main muscle groups and provide a decent cardio challenge.

Workout Rating: 9.5/10
Fun Factor : 8/10

There Are No Losers

All of these games have one key feature in common: they make exercise fun. Whether you dust off your old Wii or don a VR headset and grab your ‘saber’ you will break into a smile. It doesn’t matter whether dancing or slaying dragons is your thing, your lockdown body will thank you for it!

Words by Andrew Butcher

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